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East County Wednesday, Jun. 2, 2021 7 months ago

Business brisk on Lakewood Main Street

Lakewood Main Street business owners and managers expect busier summer than usual in Lakewood Ranch.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

Bruce Mahnke, a co-owner and manager of McGrath’s Irish Ale House and Ed’s Tavern, has noticed something different about Lakewood Main Street this May.

Namely, it's as busy as it would be in the height of season, which traditionally runs from November to April.

The story was similar at other businesses located on Lakewood Main Street. Owners and managers said this May has been busier than typical Mays from 2019 and before, and some agreed with Mahnke’s observation that the busy season has basically been extended.

Mahnke said business at Ed’s Tavern was slow last summer before picking up in September. Over the next four months, which included the opening of McGrath’s in November, the number of customers at both restaurants gradually increased. It reached levels similar to a normal busy season in January, albeit with far more customers eating outside than in the past. Mahnke estimated about 70% of his customers this month at McGrath's have eaten outside.

Business at Ed’s Tavern has increased compared to May 2019. Mahnke said part of the reason could be large-scale family activities, such as concerts and amusement parks, are still restricted, which could explain why he has had crowds for bingo, trivia and live music at his restaurants.

Mahnke said he still expects something of a drop-off after kids get out for school and people start going on vacations for the summer, but the decrease in business will be less pronounced compared to previous years. He hopes it leads to a strong 2021-22 season.

“More people are coming to the state and now just stay in the state, buying houses and not doing the whole snowbird thing,” Mahnke said. “Why go north and not be able to go out to eat or do the things you could do in Florida? We'll see once the weather starts hitting 90 degrees everyday. People might change their mind.”

Epic Home Decor Owner Diane Creasy said she believes fewer people are returning north for the summer compared to previous years, leading to an increase in business during what is normally considered the offseason.

Epic Home Decor Owner Diane Creasy agreed with Mahnke that more people are choosing to stay in Florida rather than go north for the summer. She said she has been receiving more calls from people who want interior design work done because they’ve spent more time in their homes.

“It’s going out as fast as I can bring it in, and it hasn’t slowed down,” Creasy said. “It's picked up everyday. Every week, it’s picking up more. I'm working seven days a week, but I'm happy.”

Although Creasy still did house calls during the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, foot traffic at her store decreased substantially. Now, her store is busy again, especially on the weekend. Though foot traffic only makes up about 15 to 20% of her sales compared to in-home interior design projects, the added business can only help. She said some people who come in on foot are discovering her store for the first time and may hire her later for interior design.

Big Olaf Creamery Manager Gerardo Serrano said business decreased by about 70% last summer compared to previous summers. By the end of 2020, business was closer to normal but still down about 20%. This May, however, is shaping up to be busier than May 2019. Serrano said he’s unsure if this offseason will be busier than previous years, but he will be happy if sales are at pre-pandemic levels.

Arts a Blaze Studio owner Joann Kavanaugh said her business was fortunate. She did not have trouble filling up her studio during the pandemic, albeit with the caveat that she decreased her seating capacity to accommodate social distancing. However, she did expect a drop-off to start in the past month or two, especially because there are vacant units near her studio, which she worried would decrease foot traffic in her area. That hasn’t happened.

“We see a ton of new faces to our store that I haven’t seen in the past year and a half,” Kavanaugh said.

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Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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